The backpack, tags still on, and shopping bag full of folders, pencils and other supplies are on the dining room table — next to the list of what’s left to buy.
My McIntosh-scented candle sits idle, yet ready to signal the start of another school year.
Happenings like these may be a part of your household, too — signs that we need not only tradition, but also structure, in our families. Children will head back to classes in the next week or so, a reminder to us parents of the importance of structure, organization and time management.
Kids might say they dislike structure, choosing instead the often unscheduled, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants days of summer, but research shows us they need it and will, as young adults, appreciate it. My younger daughter, in her elementary-age years, would often have meltdowns in the middle of summer days. My husband, a teacher, started reviewing some math on flash cards with her each day. This hint of a school day was just the structure she needed to enjoy the rest of her summer. Now a rising high school senior, she has been able to stay on top of any summer work required in her classes, and I am confident she will have equal success in college.
Neuroscientists believe we parents begin teaching our children lessons of structure at a very early age. We watch them at a birthday party for one of their friends, for example, settling their impulses to grab and open gifts that aren’t theirs and to scream when the first piece of cake isn’t placed in front of them. Some might see this as teaching manners, but, in fact, it’s also teaching the structure of events.
Structure at home might include setting a time for homework or a bedtime — unpopular rules of parent dictators, in their eyes, but important lessons nonetheless. Boy, what we parents wouldn’t give for a set bedtime, right?
As we instill the importance of structure, we’re also teaching organizational skills that they’ll need and use throughout their lives. Organization doesn’t have to be over the top but should be top of mind. Children need to know the importance of grabbing their lunch, their musical instrument, their library books before they head out the door. Parents, don’t beat yourself up for all the nagging or beat your head against the door while wondering when they’ll actually remember to do it without being reminded. When they do get it, both you and they will feel a great sense of accomplishment.
Some kids are born with this ability to think and act in an organized way. Others must be taught. I believe I was probably born with it. I am a daily list-maker. Lists make me happy. Crossing things off as I complete each task is cause for constant celebration. My husband, I believe, probably had to learn it. He prefers instead to live a more unplanned life. It doesn’t mean he gets fewer things done; he just doesn’t need a nagging list to keep him going.
My children are a mix of both of us. My older daughter has been organized from the start. My younger daughter needed a push. But growing up in the same structured household has created equal organizational skills between them.
Structure and organization go hand in hand with time management, in and out of the classroom. If your kids show signs of frustration with having too much homework and not enough time to get it done, time management skills — or the lack of them — might be the reason. This is especially true when they are members of clubs or sports teams. Being a good manager of time allows children to get their homework and household chores done and still have time to do the stuff they consider fun. It’s important that they learn this skill early because time management is key through high school, college and the workplace.
As parents, we teach structure, organization and time management when we pick them up after school, attend their chorus concert or cheer for their team. We likely spent the earlier part of the day at work but juggled our tasks effectively so we could leave the office on time and get to the “fun stuff.”
Parents, your children are learning the lessons you teach each day. It might take some time till they realize it, or admit it, but don’t despair. They hear you, even if they’re rolling their eyes.